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Juliana Buhring: The first woman to cycle around the world talks canines, Kardashians and religious sects


Everyone said I shouldn't do it People said that I wasn't ready, that I wasn't a cyclist and I didn't know what I was doing. I trained for eight months in Italy, though I hadn't cycled before that since wobbling around on a bike when I was five. I wanted to prove you don't have to be a professional to do something incredible, and I cycled 18,000 miles in 152 days.

I ran out of money on the way I hadn't got any sponsors, but I did a lot of tweeting and social networking, telling people where I was. So when I told people that I'd ran out of money, many contacted me and said, "Keep going! We'll keep you on the road." I had a constant drip of donations from all these people. A lot went wrong, though: my bike broke, I got diarrhoea in India and I got attacked by dogs.

It's amazing how fast you can ride with a pack of dogs chasing you I was frequently attacked while riding in Turkey. In some areas, huge dogs roam in packs of 10 to 15, and they chase to kill. There are a lot up in the hills so I'd pray that if they found and chased me I'd be racing downhill rather than uphill. I was saved a few times by cars coming up behind me and deliberately driving into the pursuing dogs.

I fell into a bit of a depression after I got home I found myself staring out of the window and wanting to be back out there. The first few weeks, everything seemed so banal; I had no interest in stupid gossip and I didn't go back to the English-language school where I had worked: I just wanted to get back to the top of a mountain and experience that adrenalin rush.

I credit my difficult upbringing for my resilience [Buhring was born into the mystic Family of Love sect, escaping when she was 23.] Because of the abuse I had to face growing up, I learnt to be strong. Being thrown into an endeavour such as cycling around the world with no support required the mental strength that maybe someone who'd lived a more sheltered life would have struggled with.

I don't want to be defined as a sex-cult survivor When I wrote [the 2007 bestseller] Not Without My Sister about my experiences, the media coverage was very sensationalistic about the sexual side of things, with all these horrible soundbites. But when I look back at it now, I don't even recognise those experiences as being mine.

There's a stigma attached to being an ex-sect kid It's as if it was our choice, or we're to blame for the world we were born into. I think there's a feeling out there that we are somehow damaged and have to wear this horrible mouldy coat that you can't ever get rid of because it's your skin. But many have since made a life outside of that – interesting people who are contributing to society.

We live in a coddled society The tiniest thing breaks people and they need therapy – they're like, "Oh, I can't face society as I didn't get hugged as a child." I'm a tough-love person. I'd say, "OK, it happened; get over it." You can't let your past define your future.

Society's superficiality baffles me The media is constantly telling women what our roles are and how we should be seen by others. When I see all this stuff about Kim Kardashian, I keep thinking why is there not more content on female politicians, artists and adventurers? I'm riding in [Europe's longest unsupported cycle race] the Transcontinental this year, yet I can't get sponsorship as there's not much interest in woman in these fields. [Buhring will be the sole female rider in the race.]

For more: julianabuhring.com For more on Buhring's charity: safepassagefoundation.org